Nearly 15% of U.S. households had trouble putting food on the table at some point during 2008, a new study from the U.S. Department of Agriculture reports.

That percentage of food-insecure households is the highest since 1995 and was up from 11% in 2007, according to an annual report released Nov. 16 by the USDA’s Economic Research Service.

The study showed 17 million households, or 14.6%, were food insecure during some periods of 2008. That represents an increase from 2007, when 13 million households, or 11.1%, reported periods of food insecurity.

The report said about one-third of food insecure households — 5.7% of all U.S. households — had very low food security.  Very low food security is defined as reduced food intake and disrupted eating patterns at times during the year. That percentage was up from 4.1% in 2007 and the highest level reported since food security surveys began in 1995.

By region, food insecurity was most common in the South, while the Northeast reported the fewest cases of food insecurity. The Midwest and the West reported midpoint levels of food insecurity, the agency said in a news release.

Food insecurity was more common in large cities and rural areas than it was in suburban regions, the report suggests. More than half of households surveyed that reported food insecurity in 2008 participated in one or more federal nutrition assistance programs in the previous month.

The complete study can be found at this link.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said that addressing the root cause of hunger will require a broad strategy that includes both nutrition assistance programs and coordination with other federal agencies and resources.

Vilsack said the Obama administration is working to provide a robust recovery for all Americans and said the health and nutrition of children should receive its due attention as Congress starts debate on Child Nutrition Reauthorization legislation.

“It is vital that we make it easier for families and administrators to bring eligible children into the program and to eliminate gap periods when children struggle to find the nutrition assistance they need — at breakfast, during summer, and in after-school settings,” he said in a news release.